Thanksgiving dinner helps ASU students feel at home for the holidays

November 24, 2014

For the seventh year in succession, the Sun Devil Family Association and Arizona State University’s Off-Campus Student Services office are partnering to host a Thanksgiving feast, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Nov. 27, for students unable to travel home for the holiday.

Robin Okun Hengl, an ASU alumnus and director of the Sun Devil Family Association (SDFA), expects as many as 500 students to sit down for the free meal. The student services office staff, SDFA scholars and parent volunteers will team up to provide a traditional dinner with all the trimmings, including leftovers. ASU students enjoy last year's Sun Devil Family Association Thanksgiving dinner Download Full Image

“The Thanksgiving dinner truly resonates with our students’ parents, as well as the overall community,” says Okun Hengl, whose husband Terry has a pair of degrees from ASU, while daughters Lauren and Dana also graduated as Sun Devils.

The dinner is just one of many services provided students by the SDFA, celebrating its 30th year as a university support organization in 2014; it also offers such things as free tutoring, Early Start and Finish Line scholarships, grants designed to make life less stressful for students, a crisis fund, Homecoming Reunion and even “grandfamily” scholarships for students raised by grandparents. Each of the programs relies on private, outside support.

“All that we are able to offer students in support of their ultimate success and the impacts they will one day have on our communities comes from gifts,” says Okun Hengl, who counts some 4,000 donors who generate as much as $375,000 annually to the association. “Private support is critical to the success of our students, helping (them) achieve and succeed, to stay in school, to graduate, to plan their futures and to make a difference.”

One student who has benefited from SDFA support is Karla Esquer, a senior at ASU’s West campus who expects to receive two bachelor’s degrees, one in psychology and one in integrative studies, in May 2015. She credits the SDFA with keeping her on track and helping “evolve my student-leader career path” as president of the on-campus student Programming and Activities Board.

When Esquer suffered a knee injury after a fall off of her skateboard, the SDFA Crisis Fund stepped in to offer some help.

“During that time, I could not bring in any money to support myself,” says Esquer. “SDFA brought me the financial stability I need not only for my health, but also for my studies. Because of SDFA, I was able to focus on my schoolwork, and I kept my grades up.”

Esquer is looking forward to the day she can return the favor; what she calls a “win-win situation” to keep the support ball rolling.

Also on hand for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner will be ASU alumni Angel and Clayton Guy, to whom the event is especially significant. The Guys, whose daughter-in-law has an ASU degree and whose son is set to graduate from the university in 2015, have helped serve and encourage students since the 2011 dinner. In addition to their volunteer service at the event, they also regularly provide philanthropic support to the SDFA’s many student programs.

“The SDFA is all about student success and supporting families, and it is something that is an honor to be a part of,” says Angel. “Robin once spoke about a student who had been living out of her car who received emergency funds with the help of the SDFA, and it reminded me of my own struggles to complete my degree. It means so much to all of us to be able to give back to our students.

“It's hard to put into words what it feels like to hug a mom who is about to leave her daughter at the dorms for the first time, or what it's like to encourage a scholar with just the right words; you do feel like you've made a real, a lasting difference,” she said.

“The SDFA has a huge impact in a scholar's life, but it is difficult to accept that we cannot support all of the deserving students that apply for our scholarships,” she adds. “The Sun Devil family and our community are extremely supportive. But we need to continue to build the partnerships throughout our local and business communities.”

For more information on the Sun Devil Family Association, visit


Melissa Bordow

Communications Manager, ASU Enterprise Partners


ASU cadets take on crisis response challenge

November 25, 2014

Disaster can strike anywhere, anytime, but thanks to a program started in California to train civilians to help during crises, 18 Arizona State University Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets are better prepared to respond to an emergency.

The ROTC cadet volunteers spent Nov. 21-23 earning their Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) certification as part of an ASU Office of Emergency Preparedness initiative to grow a core group of individuals that can assist during a crisis, whether on campus or in their local community. ROTC CERT trainees rescuing a dummy from underneath a block of cement Download Full Image

The premise of CERT is that during a large-scale emergency – such as natural disaster, terrorist attack or environmental catastrophe – there will not likely be enough first responders available.

“Government resources are finite resources,” said John Moede, City of Scottsdale Emergency Management Coordinator and lead CERT instructor. “During a crisis, help may be delayed. We’re living in the time of doing more with less.”

Moede knows. A retired Los Angeles firefighter, he spent 28 years as a first responder. He was also part of the disaster preparedness unit that developed the CERT concept, now a federal program under the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Moede recognizes training as the key to crisis response. The fog and intensity of an emergency can overwhelm individuals and render them ineffective.

“People will not do what you tell them to do,” he said. “They will do what they are trained to do.”

The ROTC cadets understood the importance of training. Air Force ROTC Cadet Capt. Bryce Muzzy volunteered for CERT training to learn how to respond the right way.

“I have the will to help right now,” said Muzzy, who aspires to be an Air Force combat rescue officer. “But I want to make sure I have the right skills so I don’t do more harm than good.”

The local CERT program has been around for about three and a half years. It is now conducted as a partnership between the cities of Scottsdale and Tempe. Together, the two cities typically sponsor two CERT classes of 30 to 45 individuals per year. The training of the ROTC cadets is a first, and it signals ASU’s entrance into the CERT partnership with the two neighboring communities.

“I want the ROTC cadets to be the core of our disaster preparedness response and champions of this course,” said Allen Clark, director of ASU Emergency Preparedness. “This aligns with their service culture and a way to further embed ASU into our communities.”

Clark plans on arranging more advanced training in the future for the newly certified cadets, along with indoctrinating new volunteers on the basic course.

The basic course teaches the need for CERT and how the program came to be. The curriculum covers terrorism, medical operations, firefighting and search and rescue. After two days of classroom briefings and hands-on training, students are put through an actual disaster exercise at the Hontz Training Center in Tempe, under the watchful eye of an experienced instructor cadre. Here they practice hands-on rescuing and treating of role-playing “casualties” in a simulated town struck by a disaster.

“It’s a lot of information but I like how they’ve split it up between briefs and hands-on training,” said Cadet Corporal Alexis Johnson, Army ROTC Sun Devil Batallion. “I don’t mind lectures but nothing really helps set info in than hands-on training.”

During this CERT class, volunteer Boy Scouts helped with the training by playing the role of casualties. This gave the students a better sense of realism, and it was mutually beneficial.

“We were lucky to have some scouts to help us,” said Moede. “This helped them earn their preparedness merit badge.”

Many stand to benefit from CERT training. The event organizers underscored the fact that CERT is not only good for the students who go on to become “preparedness advocates” but also for potentially multiple communities and social groups.

“The skills they learn here are not only for use at ASU,” Clark said. “They can take what they’ve learned and apply it anywhere, whether back in their hometowns, hanging out with friends, etc.”

The class concluded with a graduation ceremony, with each participant receiving a certificate confirming successful course completion. Army Lt. Col. Daniel Roberts, ASU professor of military science, was on hand to present the certificates to the 18 ROTC cadets. He praised them for their accomplishments and challenged them to make a positive difference in the military and in their communities.

Jerry Gonzalez

Assistant Director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications